Landlords Will Soon Have 30 Days to Register Vacant Storefronts

In a rare show of unity, all 11 supervisors are cosponsors for legislation that cracks down on owners of vacant storefronts.

Legislation to deter owners from keeping storefronts vacant moved out of committee on Monday to the Board of Supervisors, where it’s already expected to pass unanimously.

In a rare show of unity, all 11 supervisors are cosponsors for legislation that will bring major changes to the city’s method and abilities to count vacant storefronts while deterring building owners from stalling. Under current law, building owners don’t need to register vacancies that are offered for rent, if even with a sign.

The Department of Building Inspection registered just 40 vacant storefronts in the city but the crowdsourcing led by Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer, who introduced the legislation, in April found 156 in the Richmond alone.

“You don’t have to spend more than five minutes walking down the Clement, Geary, or Balboa corridors to see four or five vacant storefronts on a block, and it’s even worse in other parts of the city,” Fewer said in December. “When you have commercial property owners holding multiple storefronts vacant for long periods of time, that hurts all the other small businesses in the area who rely on a vibrant commercial corridor to attract customers.”

But Fewer’s legislation, which was passed by the Land Use and Transportation Committee on Monday, would require building owners to register unoccupied storefronts and pay the $711 annual registration fee within 30 days of it being vacant. Owners will go from having a complaint-driven system with a 270-day grace period to another $2,844 fee if they don’t comply after receiving a warning. (The fee can be refunded up to half of the fee based on when it is occupied with a tenant again.)

Owners will also be required to submit an annual inspection report to DBI done by a third party professional when renewing the registration status. 

Proposed changes to the building code include DBI maintaining a registry of vacant or abandoned commercial storefronts with a quarterly report to the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. This will give city leaders a proper scale of the problem and could produce dramatically different numbers than DBI’s current registry. 

Supervisor Vallie Brown also introduced legislation to tackle empty storefronts focused on speeding up the permitting process for new businesses and that allows flexible retail uses, like combining cafes in clothing stores. Mayor London Breed directed another $1 million for the effort.

But voters may soon weigh a vacancy tax on residential and retail properties introduced by Supervisor Aaron Peskin in January. Residences with three or more units, and retail properties in Neighborhood Commercial Districts, that are vacant for six consecutive months would pay $250 per unit each day. If the Board of Supervisors approves, the ballot measure would be up for a vote in November and needs a two-thirds majority to pass.

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